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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  July 25, 2014 11:30pm-12:01am EDT

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good evening from los angeles. i'm tavis smiley. tonight a conversation about whether or not truly progressive agenda can thrive in this country with bhaskar sunkara from "jacobin" magazine. i'm glad you joined us for our conversation with bhaskar sunkara coming up right now.
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just how far the left in this country the political left in this country have strayed from the more radical roots is a kun undrum that prompted bhaskar sunkara to find a magazine called jacobin." it attracts over 300,000 unique visits each month in addition to the print version and caught the attention of people across media landscape. bhaskar, thank you for being on this program. >> thank you. >> you are a colleague of adolph
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reed who wrote a piece that i read and a lot of other people read that was talked about in harpers not long ago about the left. you basically argue there is no left left in america. what is your sense of what has happened? first of all, is he right? if he's right, what happened to the left as we once knew it? >> i think professor reed as usual is normally right. he is right on this one. i would say he does the one thung i disagree with, i think he's a little more pessimistic and doesn't bring enough attention to other issues. we see a decline on political economy. there is inspiring organizing done at the grassroots level. i don't think he focuses enough on that. but other than that, you know, i think his general thrust is more or less right. >> can the work being done by this radical left, if you will, at the grassroots level, can that translate into anything
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politically or is it destined to stay at the grassroots level? >> i think it can and it will. i think when we talk about changing society, something that grand and that important and even winning small reforms in that day to day, we have to acknowledge how difficult it is. you know, the voices against us are so strong and so well organized and so well funded that we really like need to put the burden on those structural forces. so i don't think the problem is internal to the left. maybe this is where i disagree a little bit with professor reed. i think the problem is more that we're in a very difficult situation. broader historical factors. >> so the funding might be -- and these two things are, i guess linked. i take to your point before you even answer my question. but the funding is one thing. the organization is something else. and my sense is that while these two things go hand in hand, the better funded you are, there is a chance you can be better organized. i've seen people waste a whole bunch of money and stra teeth
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beingly make bad decisions about spending money. so funding doesn't always lead to better organizing. but funding and organizing are two different things. so the left might not have the money, might not have the funds. but what happened to the lack of organization and the unity for lack of a better word on the left? >> part of the organization has been crushed by force. what happened to the new left, what happened to the black nationalist movement, these are organizations that really con fronted state and corporate power and crushed in the process. i also think beyond that in the '80s we went through a period where the left were treated from class analysis and drifted away from really the core of the critique of capitalism. we want more democracy in societies. we see what we have political democracy. we see this thing being erode. we want more social and more economic democracy. and this basic point that we want more from more people should really be an easier sell than austerity.
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but they're right at convincing even seniors and these other people that they have a lot to lose from social security and other end roads, pensions. the right is winning them over. the left message is, hey, you have a bunch of stuff and you want to struggle before, you deserve more. so if anything, our message should be getting across. but we're really struggling. i think that partially has to do with just political defeat. >> but if the democratic party has run like a rabbit to the center over the -- the past few years, certainly the administration with the whole doc, if the democratic party has rushed it to the center, then who speaks for progressives? who speaks for radical left in these political circles? certainly in washington. >> right. i think that for one thing, we need to draw a line and separate the rank and file of democrats with the leaders in the kra democratic party and also the political leadership of the
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cra democratic party. so my parents, my mom, for example, she's an immigrant from trinidad. she is a public sector worr. she is not ready to break from the democratic party. she knows there is a lesser evil. and in her lie, it makes every bit of difference. but for, as a whole, she hasn't change her views. she was against welfare reform. she was against all these things. but the leadership of the democratic party drifted in different directions. so at the moment there are almosts of the democratic party that are better on the iues. you can't lump in john conyers with barack obama. but at the end of the line, they're still linked with the democratic party. it has no structural tie to these people in their tents. so it's a loose relationship and a relationship where the democrats will if left to their own devices always move right. it's a really difficult to keep up the pressure constantly, especially with a globalized economy and the defeat of those
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political movements as we discussed before. >> you hit the nail on the head. if both parties are bought and lost by big money and big business, how do we ever, any of us, have a voice who don't have money, much less the progressive left? >> right. i think, for example, if you look at seattle and the rise of the victory official the $15 minimum wage, you see the left is confident enough to run its own candidate, to really say decisi decisively, we should break with the democratic party. it difficult to get back. in some situations, it's not the thing we need to do right away. elect orally, you can't put the cart before the electorally, i wouldn't say we should run like that. but i think the emphasis in seattle is running explicitly as socialists. so, in other words, you have a lot of good elected officials who have social democratic and
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democratic socialist views but in their day-to-day life, they're not really living it. they're not pushing the policies at night maybe they pray to the alter of socialism and say the right thing at dinner parties and read the right book. i think there is a important to move an open socialist movement. >> i wonder if you even see, even with the examples you offered, whether you see that narrative changing. i'm just trying to figure out how do we get to a meaningful conversation about what our options are beyond these two parties, if even the phrase democratic socialist shuts everything down. >> well, it may be a generational thing. i found in my experience organizing, i've been in politics since i was way too long to be making the life long decisions. i was many seventh or eighth grade or something. but in the period, in the generation after that, the fall of the berlin wall and destruction of the eastern block, i think you have that stig stigma, that authority takerianism and other things removed.
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and then you look at the polling for people age 18 to 36. they have more favorable impressions of socialism than can tallism. so obviously will is no what does that mean? they're referring to scandinavian welfare states or something or the other. i think the stigma is gone from the word. and we have the tea party right to thank for that. so if all the guys keep calling barack obama a centric, eventually the word loses potency and void. here's what we immediate mean by socialism. here is tradition. it has a past firmly rooted in the american tradition. >> how big a problem to your mind is capitalism? >> i think by nature, you said capitalism unleashed tremendous productive forces around the world. it got us to the point of something else is possible. but even by nature, even at its best, capitalism restrained by the welfare state, restrained by
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certain safety nets, it's still a system based on exploitation and lack of democracy. there is one thing we can do with that relationship and that information. it is probably producing more than $10 an hour worth of labor. now 9:00 to 5:00 i'm working for you, you're telling me what to do, how to do my job. maybe if we still need markets in other areas, i can see. that maybe there is a need for markets. at the very least, me as an employee, i goat decide what to do with all these profits of the organization is creating and i get to decide how to structure and manage the other democratic workers. i think that fundamental push for more democracy is one that's really rooted in the arc of the lightning. you know, we're really trying to fulfill what is at the heart of the french revolution and these other revolutions and capitalism denied it, that final push from just political democracy to economic and social democracy as
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well. >> i wonder your answer now whether or not you think that there's something happening in our body politic that makes this pseudo, my phrase, not yours, this pseudo conversation. it seems to be building a graund groundswell. even obama got into the act in december when you said it's the issue of our time. i wonder if you sense something that gives this conversation about poverty some real traction at the moment. >> right. well, i think for our whole generation, americans during the 50s, 60s, 70s, they were sold a bill of goods, if you work hard, if you put your kids in a good school, if you keep your head down, you'll be given a 9:00 to 5:00, pension, safe retirement.
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you'll be given something. now more and more people are working harder and harder. and people are filling the gaps with loans, with credit. and now they're dealing with the double pinch of losing employment and working two, three jobs and also having massive debt. people realize it's not they're fault. that is the message that left needs to push to people. austerity, cutbacks, layoffs, it's not your fault. i think that's really at the core of what this discussion around inequality is around. people know they're not doing anything wrong. they know they're following rule book. but they're seeing generationally even with their parents and grandparents got. so to your point about it's not your fault, that would be lambasted. that would be just pill gried for being not just wrong but indeed anti-american. that we're not taking
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responsibility for our own lives, for our own future. i'm just trying to imagine how you think that slogan, a campaign like that would rollout successfully. >> i think we need to bring it back maybe to freedom as a problematic, of socialism and the real political thing we're pushing for p because freedom, if anything, is more stooped in the american political discord. so what i described before is -- what i think we should think about even stuff like the welfare state, it's freedom. freedom from an employer being able to fire you for whatever reason. freedom from having to deal with the insecurity of having to work two jobs but also having to take care of a kid. universal childcare, that's freedom. so i think maybe that's a better way to frame this discussion. >> but now you're on to the republican talking points. turn on fox news any night. what are they talking about? freedom. we have to live in a nation where the government doesn't infringe upon your freedom. so maybe the problem is that we just have a fundamental
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disconnect on the way we define freedom in this country. >> right, i think the left received a lot of ground. so what we need to push for is sort of a equality and freedom. we need to push for a new set of bill of rights, for example, to have economic rights, positive rights, not just the negative rights. and not just freedom of press and the thing like that which are obviously under increasing attack in every dimension. we need to push for something more positive. you have the right to control your workplace. you have the right it to control the fruits of your labor. you have the right to be free of government haurment whrassment comes to stop and frisk and these things. the republicans will lambast the cost when they're trying to tax them at 30%, 40%. but they'll be fine with the government running amok, stopping and frisking people, shooting people, massive incarceration and what not. >> i'm struck by, i couldn't agree more, could not condition occur more with your notion that
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what this country needs now is an economic bill of rights between the americans who find their way into poverty on this highway into poverty but can't even find a sidewalk out. the highway into poverty, now not even a sidewalk out. i concur on the bill of rights. it occurs to me that the last person to talk about a bill of rights was martin luther king jr. they shot him in the head when he did that. when king talked about the triple threat that this country faced, racism, poverty and mill tarrism, where poverty is called, he called being almost 50 years ago as you were calling for now an economic bill of rights. he couldn't get liftoff on that issue. this is his effort to organize poor people's campaign. if he had succeeded, he would have been the original occupier. he was going to the national mall in washington. set up a sent at this tim a ten. i wonder how we ever get again
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traction on a real conversation about an economic bill of rights. ceo pay through the roof. we can't get a real conversation about the right that people have in this country to have meaningful employment, not minimum wage but a living wage. if king couldn't get that conversation off the ground, this is a know legal laureate and has a holiday and postage stamp and a monument in washington. we demonize him when he talked about that very issue. >> right. >> he's been stripped away by politics as he's been co-opted by these people. >> that's the problem with marn. that's the reason why i wrote this book. i'm afraid that if we don't recover quickly who he really was, it's going to be lost forever and irrecoverable. he's been so sanitized and so sterilized and so in some ways lionized that we don't want to
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deal with the ultimate message he was trying to deliver. back to my question, if king couldn't get liftoff on a conversation about an economic bill of rights, how do we do that? >> the thing about dr. king, what he was trying to do, it wasn't just changing a discord. it's not what i can do or what you can do for your platform, it's about slow patient organization. he knew the pow he of the slow patient organization. people thought it was dead and take decades and generation to resuscitate, you know, there was plenty of people for rosa parks that tried a similar protest. they were ignored, thrown into jail and ignored. now what dr. king was trying to do, he is trying to slowly build organizational capacity. he was trying to slowly create a booth between different grupz on the left. he was pushing a very explicit socialist program that understand the ways in which the war in vietnam was connect with the war at home. the way racism was connected in with capitalism. he was a democratic socialist.
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i think we just need patience and clarity. that's one thing that maybe i did disagree with professor reed. part is a tone. if we're really socialists, we should think in the grand scope of history. we should think just like the rights did when they saw in 1964, they saw what happened to goldwater. they saw that defeat. they organize it. the ultimate defeat of just 64, it completely changed ed 0 year later when they were able to push in reagan and redine what america is all about. so we can obviously lament what that actually ment f lly meant and poor people around the country. that is the left. we need to get back to thinking that way. we can't go from defeat to defeat to defeat to despair. we need to figure out how to build the long term organizational movements and connect with a real social base. >> speaking of a real social
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base, part would argue that real social base has itself wayned. what do you think of that? >> i think there are positive little blips around the union movement. the chicago teachers union, we just did a class action with the core caucus. what they really push is membership engagement. they're actually a type of a union run from the bottom up. the membership feels engageded. they feel like they're each political actors. all the teachers in chicago, if you want to have an informed discussion about education and reform policy, don't go to washington. go and speak to at chicago teacher. that is because of the efforts of the chicago teachers union. beyond that, they're building links with the community. so if a union member has a pothole if her lawn, that's union problem. you know, there's not just narrow bread and butter business unionism. there is really a vision, connected it o that.
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and also another issue, i think the afl-cio and other unions are better on theenvironment, a little bit on the environment and way better on immigration. now in the '80s when you saw closings and what the not, a love the rhetoric is buy american cars. don't ship them overseas. it plays with rights to reign. nowadays the unions are much better on issues of immigration and nationalism and solidarity. i think there is really breet promi bright, promising things there. >> first of all before i give you my assessment, i have a wonderful cop why you of this report called "class action" about the work that the chicago teacher's union has done. i have such great love for the president there and all the things that the teachers are doing in chicago against the odds, even when the kraic politicians are, you know, after them tooth and nail. they're still stapdinding their
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ground in chicago. sml take this the wrong way. but my sense of this is that too many of these unions because they like your mother find themselves in a position of lesser, having to do the less of two evils, the obama administration is off way too easy on what it should have been doing and could have been doing legislatively to advance the union agenda in this country. but the unions won't say bleep about it publicly because they're hog-tied by this lesser of two evil's model. >> they get the power from the threat of with holing strike. so in the workplace, if they're engaged in the sweetheart deals of businesses, even the short term, the safest thing to do with members as far as pensions and what not. in the long term, it is crippling their ability. so same thing applies to the macro level. unions really need to recognize the democratic party might be
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the lesser evil that you need to vote for in this election. pouring all this money into national campaigns is not going to help anyone. unions really need to start achallenging democratic governors like andrew cuomo in new york. so those -- >> which you wush they would never do. >> yeah. >> they're not going to touch him in wisconsin. >> the thing is scott walker, he is just too bold. he wnts to cut off the heads of the unions. they're doing the same thing. by the time unions wake up and realize what's going on, they're too weak. they're in a vulnerable position. and the member shps are not activated. may 1st, a union rally. 1,000 people came up. i would say for every -- >> city hall where? >> new york city. for every five union staff that showed up, probably told to go
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after work. 1,000 people total. this is the most union dense area of this country. they have their membership engaged. they have a stake in the union. the thing the unions used to say, that is only true in a few democratic unions. aenthose need to be the model. >> so let me close on the show. what makes you hopeful and obviously you're hopeful because you're doing work and people are paying attention to it. the conversation is starting i think to erupt. what makes you hopeful? >> there's a story. it's a famous story toll in the churches in italy and the catholic world for many generations. it was a man who strapped hand gliders on hisself and then jumped off a church steep will and told everyone he could fly. of course this is the 1500s. he fell down and crash and died. the story was told as a fable,
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who knows if this guy existeded, to say this is man trying to do what only god and heaven can do. i can look back on story in a very different way. it's not a story of the impossibility. it's a story of a struggle that is failed. >> it's in the favor of people would are fighting for more democracy, more equality, more progress. the world is not standing still. i really do think the socialist movement will re-emerge before long. >> everybody quotes him. but he was so right about this. he said all the time at the arc, it is long but it always bends towards justice. i'm always honored. i think it's my duty if fact on public television to bring you voices you may not be familiar with. and especially when they're so young and vibrant and brilian like bhaskar sunkara behind
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"jacobin" magazine. i think we're all made better when challenged to re-examine the assumptions we hold. we're all made better when we put our ideas against other people's ideas, help us ultimately expand our own inventory of ideas. you might want to check this out. i would love to have you all on. good to have you here. >> join me next time for a conversation about possible breakthroughs for understanding alzheimer's and then with terry cruz. that's next time. we'll see you then.
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>> rose: welcome to the program. tonight, a conversation with the artist jeff koons. >> i like my senses to get excited, and physically, i like to feel sensation. my eyes, i like excitement. i like from the senses to start to have ideas generated that, the mind and body together. but then there's a point where you take on a moral responsibility to your community. i mean, i've already learned how to feel sensation myself and feel transcendence in my life. and automatically then you want to share that, you know. first, you know, when you're younger, you think about sharing it with other artists and you share with a broader community. >> rose: jeff koons for the hour, next.


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